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The New Yorker article on Lewis

The man. The myth.

The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Adam Linton » 16 Nov 2005, 03:08

Has anyone else seen the recent article about Lewis in The New Yorker (November 11, 2005 issue)?

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarg ... at_atlarge

Of course, not that I couldn't question a couple or so of this article's statements, but it seemed to me to be thoughtful, as well as carefully and well written. Worth the read.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Karen » 16 Nov 2005, 12:41

Yes. Adam Gopnik is an excellent writer (have you read his Paris to the Moon?), and while the article has a distinctly skeptical slant (this is The New Yorker, after all), it was interesting to read his take on Lewis and Narnia.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Adam Linton » 16 Nov 2005, 14:39

Karen wrote:Yes. Adam Gopnik is an excellent writer (have you read his Paris to the Moon?)


I can't say that I have -- but I do catch him on a fairly regular basis in The New Yorker.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Karen » 16 Nov 2005, 14:47

Adam Linton wrote:I can't say that I have -- but I do catch him on a fairly regular basis in The New Yorker.


Then you've probably read many of the excerpts from the book which appeared there, or rather the essays which he later made into the book. Gopnik and his family spent five years in Paris, where he wrote a "Paris Journal" for The New Yorker. Some of the stories, particularly his dealings with the French bureaucracy, are wonderfully funny.
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re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby wood-maid » 17 Nov 2005, 17:14

I wouldn't have guessed that he knew much about Lewis...it talked about A Grief Portrayed. And seemed a little derogatory toward Lewis' Christianity as well, I thought.
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re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Fea~mar~vanwa~tyalieva~* » 18 Nov 2005, 07:35

I think this article was interesting, but critics and journalists should stay out of authors' private lives. just my opinion. it's too 'gossipy' in parts, and seems biased. Obviously Lewis was human, but he really contributed to the world and using language like they did is just disrespectful. I like most of the article..but not all.
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re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Tony » 18 Nov 2005, 12:03

That was very well written. I just wish there wasn't so much of what seemed to be bashing Lewis on the head with a cast-iron pan.

I love that man. :(
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re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Boyd Britton » 26 Nov 2005, 17:26

Whether or not the writer is Christian, I think he mistakes an apologist for an evangelist. Lewis' writings explain "what we believe" much more than "why you should" .

If he isn't, he's going to have difficulty with "inter-office" communication between believers. It's hard to get till you "get it". Look how long it took the Apostles.

He seems to like the fantasies but dislike "fantastic" villains in the "fairy tales for adults". Oh well.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby MotherLodeBeth » 27 Nov 2005, 05:07

Adam Linton wrote:Has anyone else seen the recent article about Lewis in The New Yorker (November 11, 2005 issue)?

http://www.newyorker.com/critics/atlarg ... at_atlarge

Of course, not that I couldn't question a couple or so of this article's statements, but it seemed to me to be thoughtful, as well as carefully and well written. Worth the read.


Reading the article one thing jumped out at me. 'Lewis ended up in a state of uncertain personal faith that seems to the unbeliever comfortingly like doubt'.

Maybe its my simply naiveté, but owning and reading most of his works I cannot find anything that would suggest that he has an uncertain personal faith which translates to an unbelief. Or did I miss something in one of his books and if so could someone please tell me what book?

As a widow and a believer I admit that my sadness and pain have caused me to question God alot, but cannot say I ever stopped being a believer or uncertain about my faith.

Would also note that IMO anyone who knows/knew British men during the 50's etc like I did as a child knows most smoked, drank and some of the scholarly ones appreciates blunt spunky women like Joy. Again maybe its my naiveté, but I don't know many C S Lewis fans who ever saw him as some squeaky clean guy who had never seen the world since anyone who knows much about military life would have to know he was much more attune to the world because of his war time experiences. And as a scholar at a top British university he would of course have known and appreciates the Greek myths IMO.

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re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 01 Dec 2005, 18:36

The Gopnik article is offensively awful.

In it, the sound of axes being ground is deafening. Gopnik is on a self-assigned mission to liberate Lewis the storyteller from Lewis the Christian. But Gopnik's assumed role---the transatlantically hip, ultra-informed guide to the Real Guy Behind the Myth---is as stylized, and as fake, as a mask on a stick. Not only is he deeply out of sympathy with his subject, but he is poorly informed about it as well.

Gopnik's digs at Lewis comprise the sort of criticism that is most enjoyable if one doesn't stop to ask what the zingy phrases actually mean. For instance, what does the "nasty little-Englandness" of the Narnia books consist in, exactly? Gopnik doesn't say, and I can't imagine. That phrase appears in Gopnik's paraphrase of Philip Pullman's attack on Lewis. But Pullman does not use the phrase "nasty little-Englandness," or indeed any form of the word "England," or make the charge of "nasty little-Englandness" in any form at all that I can discern, so this appears to be a projection or fabrication by Gopnik. Perhaps Pullman made the accusation in some anti-Lewis piece that I have not been able to obtain; but in any case, Gopnik seems to accept Pullman’s charges at face value. As for "narrow-hearted religiosity," of which the Narnia books also stand passingly accused here, they are actually scorned by some fundamentalists for portraying a demon-worshipper as being "saved" at the end of the series, not because he has changed his mind and affirmed the right Christian doctrines but because his worship of Tash was sincere. So much for Lewis's "narrow-hearted religiosity." But Gopnik too much enjoys taking self-righteous shots at self-righteousness to let facts stand in his way.

Gopnik’s gravest offense is that he doesn’t know Lewis’s life or work, yet presumes to opine. He reveals how little actual reading there is behind his pose of knowingness when, for example, he says that as a child CSL "loved landscape and twilight, myth and fairy tale, . . . and the stories of George MacDonald"---naming “At the Back of the North Wind," "The Princess and the Goblin," and Phantastes. "Macdonald's stories,” Gopnik says, “evoked in Lewis” the emotion that Lewis called "Joy."

Wrong. In fact, Lewis never mentions, anywhere in his essays or letters or in his autobiography that I am aware of, having read "At the Back of the North Wind" and "The Princess and the Goblin" as a child (though he certainly read them later). He did not read Phantastes until he was 17 years old. In his autobiography, he does not even mention MacDonald when describing his childhood experiences of Joy: he mentions a garden, Beatrix Potter, and a poem by Longfellow. It was G. K. Chesterton, not C. S. Lewis, who adored the MacDonald fairy tales as a child. Perhaps Gopnik was confusing the two writers. But since his main relationship to these men seems to be to despise them (as a gratuitous hit against GKC on page one of the article makes clear), one must sympathize: it is hard to keep one's facts straight when writing about people one doesn't take seriously. By the way, Gopnik describes the feeling of Joy as trying to tell Lewis "not just that there is something good out there but that there is something _big_ out there." But Lewis never once speaks of a sense of magnitude or bigness or scope as an aspect of the Joy feeling. This is Gopnik’s own invention.

Gopnik gets some things right but distorts and even invents whenever it comes time to make Lewis look a twisty-minded loser. Most egregious example: he says that Lewis converted because he wanted “the cake” (pleasures) to “keep coming” and thought "the Anglican Church was God's own bakery." Which makes Lewis sound like a sectarian fool. But Lewis never wrote a single sentence that I know of, in any letter or book or essay, touting the unique superiority of the Anglican church over other Christian groups; he was, as most readers of this forum will know, the most stubbornly ecumenical of writers. Gopnik repeats the cheap shot about Lewis being a narrow Anglican in the next paragraph, amplifying: "In fact, it seems much easier to believe in the power of the Romantic numinous if you do not take a controversial incident . . . in British royal history [the defection of Henry VIII from the church of Rome] as the pivot point of your daily practice." Indeed, how silly that would be---except that Anglicans don’t, and Lewis didn't. Gopnick goes on: "Lewis insists that the Anglican creed isn't one spiritual path among others but the single cosmic truth . . . " That is a straight-out lie: Lewis never hinted, much less insisted, any such thing. The whole tenor of his writing is against it. Even replace the word "Anglican" with the word "Christian" in that allegation and you have at best a half-truth about what Lewis thought: in the final Narnia book and in other writings Lewis makes it clear that he believed God could and would accept non-Christians as "saved.”

One could go on. Gopnik openly despises Lewis’s religion, twists Lewis’s views of allegory by selective quotation, refers foolishly to The Allegory of Love as “a study of epic poetry”---it is not, it is a study of the allegorical love poetry of the Middle Ages, as Lewis says in its first sentence---and commits other errors and distortions. E.g., he hints that Lewis’s relationship with Mrs. Moore “may have had a sadomasochistic tinge”: sez who? It might have, for all I know, but can anybody name any actual evidence, even enough to justify a “may have”? (“May have” is cheap: Gopnik’s relationship with his cat “may have” a sadomachistic tinge, for all the rest of us know, but why would anyone say it except to slime Gopnik?)

Truly a shameful job, smart-aleck literary criticism at its masturbatory worst. Gopnik writes like a caricature of the secularist literati, trashing Lewis as punishment for being too lowbrow, too religious, and too well-loved by too many uncredentialed people.

Gopnik thinks Lewis’s religion was “straitened and punitive,” and that Lewis could have written Narnia much better if he had dropped the nasty old Christianity. But to paraphrase Wendell Berry, the one sure fact we have is that C. S. Lewis, believing, wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, while Adam Gopnik, not believing, wrote “Prisoner of Narnia,” a work of an entirely different order.

My best to all,

Larry
Last edited by larry gilman on 01 Dec 2005, 18:57, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Karen » 01 Dec 2005, 18:50

Go on Larry, tell us how you *really* feel. ;)

larry gilman wrote:Gopnik writes like a caricature of the secularist literati, trashing Lewis as punishment for being too lowbrow, too religious, and too well-loved by too many uncredentialed people.


As I said above, this is The New Yorker we're talking about...what did you expect? Like the New York Times, they usually treat religious people and ideas with a fair amount of contempt. (That said, I'm a subscriber to both - they have other excellences.) You should write a shortened version of your post as a letter to The New Yorker - they occasionally print them.
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Re: re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Karen » 03 Dec 2005, 14:15

In today's NY Times, Peter Steinfels has a very good response to Gopnik's article. Here's the last part of it (you can read the whole thing here, free registration required):

For [Gopnik], "whatever we think of the allegories it contains, the imaginary world that Lewis created is what matters." The believer and the atheist can meet "in the realm of made-up magic," he says, because they both need to register "their understanding that a narrow material world, unlit by imagination, is inadequate to our experience, much less to our hopes."

But does that material world, once lit by imagination, become adequate to our experience and hopes? Mr. Gopnik doesn't explicitly say, but unlike Lewis he clearly does not think there is any further possibility. "The experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual, is," he makes clear, only "an experience of magic conveyed by poetry, landscape, light, and ritual."

Lewis believed otherwise.

Alan Jacobs closes his recently published study of Lewis, "The Narnian" (HarperSanFrancisco), with a passage that Kenneth Tynan, the theater critic, had asked to be read at his burial. A person as unlike Lewis as could be imagined, Tynan was nonetheless devoted to Lewis, his former Oxford tutor. The passage he chose, from a sermon Lewis delivered, warned that beauty was not ultimately in the books or music where it was thought to be found. "It was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing," Lewis said.

"For they are not the thing itself," he went on; "they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited."

This is where the serious religious question lies. It is not a question about Lewis's eccentricities nor about some evangelicals' weakness for preachiness or hero-worship. It is a question about reality.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby Fairfax » 30 Apr 2010, 08:04

Gopnik also says:

If we had, say, a donkey, a seemingly uninspiring animal from an obscure corner of Narnia, raised as an uncouth and low-caste beast of burden, rallying the mice and rats and weasels and vultures and all the other unclean animals, and then being killed by the lions in as humiliating a manner as possible—a donkey who reëaut;merges, to the shock even of his disciples and devotees, as the king of all creation—now, that would be a Christian allegory. A powerful lion, starting life at the top of the food chain, adored by all his subjects and filled with temporal power, killed by a despised evil witch for his power and then reborn to rule, is a Mithraic, not a Christian, myth.


How is this so? I looked up Mithris, and I couldn't any similarity to Narnia, and Aslan's sacrifice.
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 30 Apr 2010, 13:04

Fairfax:

Good question. According to Wikipedia, a lion-headed man is often portrayed in Mithraic carvings. But this was a marginal figure: Mithraic ceremony centered around the ritual sacrifice and redemptive eating of a bull, not a lion. So if you wanted to make a really Mithraic Narnia book, you would have Christ appear as a bull -- an herbivore, by the way, not "at the top of the food chain," where Gopnik seems to think a Mithraic figure would be found.

Bulls have been associated with divine power in many religions (the "golden calf" of Exodus is a trace of this history) . . . And there are interesting resemblances between Christianity's core story and those of many other religions, including Mithraism, as Lewis himself knew well and wrote of. (The Dying God and Redemptive Resurrection stories per se are not Christian-copyrighted, and if they really are part of the fabric of the universe there is no reason why they should be.) The resemblance in this case, such as it is, is not Lewis's cranky personal invention, as Gopnik hints, but a fact of religious history.

Most embarrassingly, Gopnik appears to not know, or not care, that the Christ-Lion is a symbol that goes all the way back to the New Testament (Revelations 5:4) and has appeared in Christian literature, art, and heraldry repeatedly throughout the centuries. Lewis did not invent it and when Gopnik says that it is "not Christian" to write of a Lion-Christ he talking nonsense.

Sincerely,

Larry
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Re: The New Yorker article on Lewis

Postby larry gilman » 30 Apr 2010, 13:11

PS. Because Christ is likened throughout Christian literature to a "sacrifice," harking back to Hebrew animal sacrifices (which is why Christ is more often a "Lamb" than a "Lion" in Christian iconography), one can find some resemblance or resonance between the Christian story and ANY religion which features sacrifice -- including Mithraism, including religions of human sacrifice. The idea that something of value, something alive, perhaps something human or even a god, must be sacrificed so that life can be renewed is one of the commonest religious notions of humankind. I'm not belittling Christianity, mind -- I prefer a religion that connects me to hundreds of thousands of years of religious history -- and I delight in the fact that the Sacrament is highly ritualized cannibalism -- I have no interest in a "spirituality" that is too fastidious or otherworldly for blood.

But for a Gopnik, these elementary facts are just ammo for cheap shots.
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